Zuo Zhuan

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Zuo zhuan
Li Yuanyang Zuo zhuan first page.png
Ming dynasty Zuo zhuan printing (16th c.)
Author Zuo Qiuming
Original title 左傳
Country Zhou dynasty (China)
Language Classical Chinese
Subject History of the Spring and Autumn period
Published No later than 389 BC[1]
Zuo Zhuan
Traditional Chinese 左傳
Simplified Chinese 左传
Literal meaning "Zuo Tradition"

The Zuo zhuan (Chinese: ; Wade–Giles: Tso chuan), variously translated as the Chronicle of Zuo, Commentary of Zuo, or Zuo Tradition, is an ancient Chinese narrative history that is traditionally regarded as a commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu 春秋). It covers a period from 722 to 468 BC, beginning with the first year of Duke Yin of Lu (r. 722–712 BC) and continuing until the 27th year of Duke Ai of Lu (r. 494–467 BC).[2]

Unlike the other two surviving Annals commentaries – the Gongyang and Guliang commentaries – the Zuo zhuan does not simply explain the wording of the Annals, but greatly expounds upon its historical background, and contains a large number of rich and lively accounts of Spring and Autumn period history and culture. It is written in a concise, flowing style that became a paragon of elegant Classical Chinese, and was imitated by historians, storytellers, and ancient style prose masters for over 2000 years of subsequent Chinese history.[2] As such, the Zuo zhuan is the source of more Chinese sayings and idioms than any other classical work.[3]


Zuo Zhuan follows the sequence of 12 dukes of the State of Lu, starting in the first year of Duke Yin of Lu and finishing in the 27th year of Duke Ai of Lu. Altogether, the 18,000 character work records the history of the various vassal states of the Zhou Dynasty over a period of 254 years.

Contents of Zuo Zhuan


Ruler of the State of Lu Reign
Period of Coverage
隱公 Duke Yin of Lu (魯隱公) 11 722 – 712 BC
桓公 Duke Huan of Lu (魯桓公) 18 711 – 694 BC
莊公 Duke Zhuang of Lu (魯莊公) 32 693 – 662 BC
閔公 Duke Min of Lu (魯閔公) 2 661 – 660 BC
僖公 Duke Xi of Lu (魯僖公) 33 659 – 627 BC
文公 Duke Wen of Lu (魯文公) 18 626 – 609 BC
宣公 Duke Xuan of Lu (魯宣公) 18 608 – 591 BC
成公 Duke Cheng of Lu (魯成公) 18 590 – 573 BC
襄公 Duke Xiang of Lu (魯襄公) 31 572 – 542 BC
昭公 Duke Zhao of Lu (魯昭公) 32 541 – 510 BC
定公 Duke Ding of Lu (魯定公) 15 509 – 495 BC
哀公 Duke Ai of Lu (魯哀公) 27 494 – 468 BC

Note: Zuo Zhuan contains an appendix starting in the fourth year of the reign of Duke Dao of Lu (463 BC).

Textual history[edit]

Zuo Zhuan is traditionally attributed to Zuo Qiuming, as a commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals. As the author uses the posthumous name of Duke Dao of Lu, the work must have been finished at some point after Dao's death in 429 BC.

Most notable modern scholars of this book such as Yang Bojun hold that the work was compiled during the Warring States period, with a compilation date not later than 389 BC.[1]

Liang Qichao further proposed from internal and comparative textual analyses that the extant editions of Zuo Zhuan and Guoyu derive from a pre-Liu Xiang edition of "Guoyu" that originally had passages from the two. The neatly delineated, chronologically complementary distribution of accounts between the two was to him evidence that Liu Xiang extracted historical accounts parallel to those in the Annals to compile what was to be called the Zuo Zhuan; accounts lacking a Chunqiu parallel were left in Guoyu in the original format under chapters by state; hence the name, organization, and text of the Guoyu 國語, or Discourse of States, that we have today.


The book contains the earliest reference to weiqi (the board game of go) in the 25th Year of Duke Xiang of Lu (548 BC in the Gregorian calendar).


With its vivid and concise language, Zuo Zhuan is a gem of classical Chinese prose. This work and the Shiji or Records of the Grand Historian, were regarded as the ultimate models by many generations of prose stylists in ancient China.

The wide range of situations covered in the work, combined with its status as a Classic, makes it a major source of Chinese proverbs.


  • Legge, James (1872). The Ch'un Ts'ew, with the Tso Chuen. The Chinese Classics V. London: Trübner. 


  1. ^ a b Gu, Sharron (2011). A Cultural History of the Chinese Language. McFarland & Company. p. 43. ISBN 9780786466498. 
  2. ^ a b Shih (2014), p. 2394.
  3. ^ Wilkinson (2012), p. 612.
Works cited
  • Cheng, Anne (1993). "Chun ch'iu 春秋, Kung yang 公羊, Ku liang 穀梁, and Tso chuan 左傳". In Loewe, Michael. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 67–76. ISBN 1-55729-043-1. 
  • Shih, Hsiang-lin (2014). "Zuo zhuan 左傳". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping. Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part Four. Leiden: Brill. pp. 2394–2399. ISBN 978-90-04-27217-0. 
  • Wang, John (1986). "Tso-chuan 左傳". In Nienhauser, William H. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 804–806. ISBN 0-253-32983-3. 
  • Wilkinson, Endymion (2012). Chinese History: A New Manual. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series 84. Cambridge, MA: Harvard-Yenching Institute; Harvard University Asia Center. ISBN 978-0-674-06715-8. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Chunqiu Zuozhuan Bilingual text of Zuo Zhuan with side-by-side Chinese original and Legge's English translation
  • Zuo Zhuan Fully searchable text (Chinese)
  • The Zuozhuan Digital Concordance, by St. John Page and Isabel García Hidalgo. The English data is based on Legge's translation, with missing sections not covered by Legge translated by Page and added to cover the full text.